PEACE in Action

The Greatest Immediate Danger to Humanity

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Promoting International Peace
The Greatest Immediate Danger to Humanity

It is perhaps the least talked about and most worrying irony of our time. The United States has a massive defense budget, but does relatively little addressing the most immediate danger to humanity.

Global security is vital to family life, the growth of business, the wise husbanding of resources and the environment. And yet, all our hopes and plans for the future exist under the shadow of a catastrophic threat – one that could kill millions of people in a few moments and leave civilization in shambles.

Although there are other significant threats, such as global warming and infectious diseases, it is nuclear weapons that are the greatest immediate danger confronting our species. We must stop ignoring this threat and start providing leadership to eliminate nuclear arsenals around the globe.

Only nuclear weapons are capable of destroying civilization and the human species. They kill indiscriminately, making them equal opportunity destroyers. In the hands of terrorists, they could destroy a country as powerful as the United States. A nuclear 9/11 could have resulted in deaths exceeding one million and the collapse of the US and world economies.

There are currently some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and 12,000 of these are deployed. Of these, 3,500 nuclear weapons are on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired in moments. Although the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea possess nuclear weapons, more than 95 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world are in the arsenals of the US and Russia. As many as 35 other countries have the technological capability to become nuclear weapons states, e.g., Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Iran, and Egypt.

Nearly all countries in the world are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Only three countries have not signed the treaty: Israel, India, and Pakistan. A fourth country, North Korea, withdrew from the NPT in 2003. The NPT obligates the nuclear weapons states that are parties to the treaty to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. The International Court of Justice has interpreted this to mean that negotiations must be concluded “leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.”

President Ronald Reagan stated in his 1984 State of the Union address “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations [USA and USSR] possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure that they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?” Secretary General Gorbachev shared the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, and the two leaders nearly reached an agreement in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986 that could have started the world on the path to nuclear weapons abolition.

With the end of the Cold War, the justification for nuclear armaments has lost legitimacy. As the world’s only remaining superpower, the United States could have led the way to nuclear disarmament. In recent years, however, the United States has gone the other way. It has sought to upgrade and improve its nuclear arsenal, and in its 2001 Nuclear Posture Review indicated that it was developing contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against seven countries – two nuclear weapons states (Russia and China) and five non- nuclear weapons states (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea—which at the time was not thought to have nuclear weapons).

Current US nuclear policy undermines the security of its people. The more the US relies on nuclear weapons, the more other countries will do so. Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated: “The more that those states that already have [nuclear weapons] increase their arsenals, or insist that such weapons are essential to their national security, the more other states feel that they too must have them for their security.”

In their January 15, 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal—“Toward a Nuclear-Free World”—George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn present a similar opinion. They express grave concern that we are at a nuclear “tipping point” with “a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.”

These former Cold Warriors propose:

  • work with Russia to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons by saving the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty of 1991;
  • pursue further reductions in nuclear arms than agreed upon in the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty;
  • increase warning and decision times for the launch of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles;
  • discard Cold War plans for massive attacks;
  • develop cooperative multilateral ballistic missile defense and early warning systems;
  • secure nuclear weapons, including those designed for forward deployment, and weapons- grade nuclear materials;
  • strengthen monitoring of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty and bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force.

The group also called for broadening the dialogue on an international scale. Here they will find that many countries without nuclear weapons have been trying to send a message to the nuclear weapons states for a long time, urging them to do all that Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn seek and more. The group points out that “Progress must be facilitated by a clear statement of our ultimate goal.”

Hans Blix, the former Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has come to similar conclusions. He wrote in an online column for Maxims News:

“I see dangers on the road traveled in the last few years by the US administration. Further exploration of new types of American nuclear weapons will not, I think, induce others to disarm and to renounce weapons options that are technically open to them. There may be more weapons and conflicts, rather than less, on this road.

By contrast, a resumption of the kind of leadership that the US used to exercise in the arms control and disarmament fields would, I think, be greeted with enthusiasm by the whole world and could lead all away from WMDs and toward greater security.”

The Cold Warriors cited above and Hans Blix are absolutely right to speak up now, and to continue to strongly promote the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. As Albert Camus said immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima, “Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only battle worth waging.”

The more nuclear weapons in the world, the more likely they will end up in the hands of terrorist extremists incapable of being deterred. The longer nations rely on nuclear weapons for security, the more likely it is that they will be used, by accident or design.

The US needs to work urgently for a treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons under strict international control, just as we have already done with chemical and biological weapons. To do this requires a drastic change in US nuclear policy – a change that will require political will and strong and effective leadership.

We at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation have formulated the following action recommendations for adoption by the next President of the United States, and we are urging Americans to sign on to this appeal at:

“The United States, as the world’s most militarily powerful nation, must take the initiative in convening and leading the nations of the world to urgently take the following steps:

De-alert. Remove all nuclear weapons from high- alert status, separating warheads from delivery vehicles;

No First Use. Make legally binding commitments to No First Use of nuclear weapons and establish nuclear policies consistent with this commitment;

No New Nuclear Weapons. Initiate a moratorium on the research and development of new nuclear weapons, such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead;

Ban Nuclear Testing Forever. Ratify and bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;

Control Nuclear Material. Create a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty with provisions to bring all weapons-grade nuclear material and the technologies to create such material under strict and effective international control;

Nuclear Weapons Convention. Commence good faith negotiations, as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons;

Resources for Peace. Reallocate resources from the tens of billions currently spent on nuclear arms to alleviating poverty, preventing and curing disease, eliminating hunger, and expanding educational opportunities throughout the world.”

Without US leadership, none of this can happen, and the world will continue its drift toward nuclear catastrophe. With US leadership, all of it can happen, and the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is achievable. US leaders need the political will to act boldly, but as of now not a single US Senator has shown leadership on ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In fact, the US Senate has still not even ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a treaty that would prohibit all countries from testing nuclear weapons.

U.S. citizens have a critical role to play in moving their leaders to action. Unfortunately, ignorance, apathy and denial are de facto votes for continuing the nuclear drift. It is critical to humanity's future that US citizens engage with this issue, and demand more of their leaders. The future of their children, grandchildren and all future generations depend upon what we do now.

David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. See also SPOTLIGHT on Peacemakers

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Special thanks to Ashleigh Brilliant
(Brilliant Enterprises; 117 W. Valerio St.; Santa Barbara, CA 93101 USA)
for permission to use his Pot-Shots postcards.

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